Venus delighted to be fit for the occasion again

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The Independent Online

It is reassuring to know that Serena has not lost her sense of humour along with her form and fitness.

Until the 25-year-old Venus exploded into life again, it seemed that the celebrated siblings, with 11 Grand Slam singles titles between them, were hitting tennis balls from force of habit rather than in pursuit of further honours.

Venus, whose favourite television show is The Golden Girls, an everyday story of retired folk in Florida, appeared close to a career move, to concentrate on her interior design company and myriad interests outside tennis.

Yet here she is, in her 11th major singles final (she has four wins), determined to add a third Wimbledon title to those she won in 2000, against Lindsay Davenport - her opponent today - and in 2001 against Justine Henin (now Mrs Henin-Hardenne). It will be Venus's first Grand Slam singles final since 2003, the second of her consecutive Wimbledon final defeats by Serena.

Venus and Serena learned to play tennis on park courts in the ill-famed Compton district of Los Angeles, before moving to Florida. It is perhaps no coincidence that Venus and Serena have not dominated the game as they once did since one of their sisters, Yetunde, was shot dead in Compton in September 2003.

A series of tennis injuries also contributed to the sisters' decline. Venus, recently recovered from a shoulder problem, lost to the world No 98 Sesil Karatancheva, of Bulgaria, in the third round at the French Open.

The only clue to her Wimbledon resurgence came in the Istanbul Cup in May, when, competing in a clay-court event dwarfed by Liverpool's Champions' League triumph, Williams won the 32nd title of her career. She did not drop a set and lost only 12 games.

Whatever confidence she gained in Istanbul evaporated in Paris. "I was fairly healthy at the French," she said, "but I did have a shoulder problem from April that really threw my game off. I just had a bad day. Obviously Sesil is a good player, but she didn't throw anything at me I hadn't seen before."

Williams had seen what Sharapova could throw at her in losing to the 18-year-old Russian on concrete courts in Zurich in 2003 and in Key Biscayne last March. But Sharapova had not seen what Williams, at her best, could throw back at her.

"My game has been improving step by step," she said. "I knew, obviously, it would be important for me to play better, but I just wanted to be relaxed out there more than anything. It doesn't matter who's across the net. It doesn't matter what they hit. It's all about you. It's about what you're going to do. It's about focusing on what your plan is and doing the right thing.

"When I get out there, I'm just trying to stay calm and even. A lot of times I get really excited or pump my fist. But I was just sticking to my game and not getting off and losing focus. The end of the match was the time to get pumped up."

Had it crossed her mind over the past two years that she would not play in another Grand Slam final? "No, not at all. There were times, sure, when I was disappointed in how I played, because I knew I could play better. But all things in good time. As my mom always says, 'Everyone has their chance'.

"All last year I didn't have the opportunity to prepare, because I never was quite healthy. I probably made a lot of bad decisions to go out and play tournaments. Everyone has their trials and tribulations. I have had the opportunity this year to gather strength and gather a rhythm and get the opportunity to train. Even when I didn't play as well as I wanted to, at least I had he chance to go back and keep training."

Asked if she was surprised to be in today's final, she said: "It's not something that I hoped would happen but probably never would. I don't leave it up to the next person to believe in me, because no matter how much the next person believes in me or doesn't believe in me, or says I'm not going to do it, or whatever it is, they can't walk in my shoes; they can't live inside my head.

"Most of all, I feel like I deserve to be where I am."

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